WHEN Rowan Lawlor, a sixth class national school student in Skibbereen, got tired of having to travel long distances to pursue his favourite pastime — skateboarding — he decided to do something about it.
The 11-year-old had to leave his West Cork home far behind to visit skate parks in Bandon, Carrigaline or Cork city.
So Rowan, along with his 15-year-old friend Hazel O’Connor, started up an online petition asking Cork County Council to build a skate park in Skibbereen.
In just a few days, more than 1,000 people had signed the online appeal.
“We just decided that Skibbereen needs it, and a lot of people would benefit from it,” Rowan says.
“And we thought, if people did want it, then they are going to sign the petition.”
Skibbereen’s only recreational facility for youth is a children’s playground with a few slides and swings. Rowan’s mother, Susan Harrington, says that when children in the town become a bit too old for enjoying swings, staring at a phone or laptop screen is the only alternative.
“It’s that in-between stage when they are slightly old to be going on the slides and swings,” she says.
“They could be doing something healthy that would keep them away from their computer screens.”
Next to Skibbereen’s playground sits an idle tennis court, and Ms Harrington believes that the council can turn it into a skate park for children.
The recent opening of a skate park in Carrigaline also added to enthusiasm among Skibbereen youngsters for one in their own town.
“It is really big, and it’s really great for going down the slopes and gathering speed,” enthuses Hazel.
“And the one in Bandon, I’ve been there once, and it’s pretty great for a small skate park — even if we had something like that here, that would be super.”
Rowan and his friends are sometimes reduced to skateboarding on the streets, a potentially dangerous activity.
Ms Harrington says the idea that her son is skateboarding on the streets has scared her into buying him a mobile phone.
“I recently got him a cheap mobile phone for that specific reason, so I can keep ringing him,” she says.
“But if I knew that he was at a skate park then I wouldn’t have to worry, I’d say ‘Oh, he’s down in the skate park.’”
“Creating a skate park would get skateboarders off the street and stuff,” Rowan adds.
Hazel feels that no one is paying attention to rural children, as urban youths often outnumber them.
“Because more people are living there [in urban areas], they don’t really take care of more rural areas that much anymore,” she says.
Cork County Council said in a statement that they would be ‘delighted’ to engage with Skibbereen children and their parents concerning the proposed skate park.
Hazel thinks that there is nothing really to do in Skibbereen’for people older than ten years of age.
“That’s really why we started skateboarding, just to give us something to do because we had access to skateboards,” Rowan adds. “It’s just something to keep us occupied.”
Ms Harrington says although she has enrolled her son in music and drama classes, children need a break from sitting in classrooms from time to time.
“They also need a place to hang out with each other,” she adds.
“I’m asking Cork County Council to look favourably on this petition that was initiated by an 11-year-old and a 15-year-old and has gone viral, and captured the attention of the community of Skibbereen.”
Hazel believes that if teenagers in her town had more access to healthy recreational facilities, they might be less prone to developing unhealthy habits such as smoking or doing drugs.
“They can take up skateboarding as a hobby, and it will keep them occupied throughout the day which would keep them away from all the negative stuff,” she says.
A study conducted by Marie Claire Van Hout, a lecturer at Waterford Institute of Technology, has found that youth in rural Ireland increasingly turn to drugs and alcohol to pass their free time. The study counts ‘peer drug use’ and unstructured recreation time’ as some of the reasons behind the prevalence of drug use among rural youth.
It is not only the children who are unhappy with Skibbereen’s lack of recreational premises. Young adults and parents including, Rowan’s mother and Hazel’s dad, had similar complaints.
With a population of nearly 3,000, Skibbereen does not have a cinema. Families have to drive or take the bus to Clonakilty or Bantry if they fancy watching a movie; otherwise, drinking is often the next option.
“We don’t have a cinema or a swimming pool in this town,” says. Ms Harrington
“I think if we got a skate park here, then perhaps young people from other towns might feel that they could come to Skibb and take advantage of it as well, like we take advantage of their cinema.”
She expressed her gratitude to people in Skibbereen and across Cork for their ‘overwhelming’ support to the children’s petition.
“This is not too much to ask in this day and age. Just do it,” a signatory’s comment on the petition reads.
“Kids in rural areas need an outlet. There is literally nothing for some people to do beside hang around. Give them something to do to develop their hobbies,” reads another.
Hazel and Rowan say the robust support they have received from the community has given them a bit of hope for the future.
To add your name to the petition see https://www.change.org/p/cork-county-council-skate-park-in-skibbereen